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From the Experts

Ballot Initiative Would Make Washington State a National Leader on Climate

August 28, 2018
By
Amanda Goodin Staff Attorney
Marisa Ordonia Associate Attorney
Office

Initiative 1631 would create billions in new revenue for renewable-energy infrastructure, clean-transportation options, job training and local communities.

Map of Washington State.
Initiative 1631 is a well-thought-out approach that takes us in the right direction, setting Washington up for a smooth transition away from fossil fuels.

This year, the state of Washington could adopt one of the nation’s most forward-thinking climate policies. By imposing a modest pollution fee on the state’s largest climate polluters, Initiative 1631 would create billions in new revenue for renewable-energy infrastructure, clean-transportation options, job training, and local communities. With a unified coalition of scientists, clean energy advocates, working families, communities of color, health professionals, businesses, tribal nations, faith groups and others working tirelessly together to make Initiative 1631 a reality, it’s no surprise that oil and gas companies are frightened by the growing momentum and are sinking millions into a PR campaign to try and stop it.

As environmental lawyers working out of Earthjustice’s Seattle office, we have prevailed against industry campaigns to thwart climate progress before. Our work is guided by the idea that in order to successfully combat climate change, we must ensure that polluters don’t lock us into fossil-fuel infrastructure that limits our energy choices for the next half-century or longer. Working on behalf of a wide array of clients across the Pacific Northwest, our litigation helped tip the scales against repeated efforts to transform West Coast port terminals into international shipping hubs for coal, oil and gas.

These legal victories helped us avert the worst outcome, but with a federal government that refuses to take on any of the responsibility of addressing climate change, there is no time to rest. Fending off mega-proposals from coal and oil industry players is only half the battle. We must also create a bridge toward a clean-energy future that takes into account all Washingtonians’ needs, regardless of race or ethnicity, vocation, income or ZIP code.

Crafted from an inclusive process that brought stakeholders together from over 250 organizations, Initiative 1631 is a well-thought-out approach that takes us in the right direction, setting Washington up for a smooth transition away from fossil fuels. A full 70 percent of revenue generated by the measure would be dedicated toward new clean-energy infrastructure, putting the choices about our energy future into the hands of the public instead of the polluters. An additional 25 percent would protect Washington’s natural heritage, including sustainable drinking water sources. Recognizing that climate change affects different people in different ways, this initiative also sets aside funding to facilitate a just transition to clean-energy jobs, and invests in measures that will protect vulnerable communities.

Historically, polluters have never shouldered the true burden of extracting and burning fossil fuels, instead shifting the cost onto communities and the environment. Low-income communities are disproportionately afflicted with respiratory problems tied to toxic smokestack emissions, and future generations will face the consequences of climate change – unless we start making wiser choices today. Every penny raised by the pollution fee envisioned under 1631 – which would levy a mere $15 for every ton of greenhouse gases emitted at the outset – would go toward solving climate-related problems and protecting people and the environment.

We’ve seen the fossil fuel industry fight to put their profits before our climate and health before, and we know they’re gearing up to throw millions into defeating Initiative 1631 now. But we know this is a fight we can win. We have fought them over their coal export terminals, their exploding oil trains, and their huge gas and petrochemical export facilities, and time and time again we have won. They can spend millions on PR, but they can’t trick us into absolving them of responsibility for their climate pollution. Washington has stood up to fossil fuels before, and now it’s time to take an even bigger stand that brings us toward the clean energy future we want and need. Initiative 1631 will help Washington become a national leader in the fight against climate change – this is a fight we must win, and we have no time to lose.